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188
he would at once write to Olya and tell her all about
himself, but ask her not to tell his mother, who was still
very sick and scarcely able to leave her bed.
This explains why both were so nervously anticipat-
ing the tankman's discharge. They were so worried that
neither could sleep, and at night both stole out into the
corridor—Gvozdev to give his scars another massage in
front of the mirror, and Meresyev, after padding the tips
of his crutches to deaden the sounds, to do an extra turn
in his walking exercises.
At ten o'clock, Klavdia Mikhailovna came into the
ward, with a sly smile informing Gvozdev that some-
body had come for him. Gvozdev jumped up from the
bed as if he had been blown off it by a blast of wind.
Blushing so furiously that the scars on his face stood out
more conspicuously than ever, he began hurriedly to
collect his things.
"She's a nice girl, and looks so serious," said the nurse
with a smile, watching Gvozdev's hurried preparations
to leave.
Gvozdev's face beamed with pleasure.
"Do you mean it? Do you like her? She is a nice girl,
isn't she?" he asked and, in his excitement, ran out of
the ward forgetting to say good-bye.
"Jackass! Just the kind that are caught in the net,"
growled Major Struchkov.
Something had gone wrong with this wild fellow dur-
ing the past few days. He became morose, often had fits
of anger for no reason at all, and being now able to sit
up in bed, would sit all day staring out of the window
with his cheeks propped up by his fists, and refuse to
answer when spoken to.
The entire ward—the gloomy major, Meresyev, and
the two new patients—leaned out of the window to see
their former wardmate appear in the street. It was a
warm day. Soft, billowy clouds with radiant, golden
edges were sailing swiftly across the sky, changing their
shape. Just at that moment, a small, grey, puffy raincloud
was passing hurriedly over the river, scattering large
raindrops that glistened in the sun. The granite walls of
the embankment shone as if they were polished; the
asphalt road was covered with dark, marblelike patches,